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Windows 10 Mobile

Mobile is the fly in Microsoft’s ointment.

(I had intended this to be the point at which I ripped Microsoft a new one for its lack of mobile focus; but honestly it doesn’t really move me)

Anytime I prepare to write about Windows and mobile I always pause  bit. Do I write a history on where it went wrong? Do I chastise Microsoft for its lack of mobile focus? Do I rant about how Microsoft should just come out and say they have nothing for phones? Maybe I do the big overview where I read the tea leaves and tell you that there is a plan?

I have no clue.

What I know is that Microsoft’s current posturing on mobile doesn’t work for either the company, their hardware partners, or users. Also the deal with Nokia provided a temporary relief by providing hardware but it wasn’t backed up by Redmond (and hurt relations with other hardware makers).

I also know that Microsoft is committed to mobile beyond being an app vendor. I also know that the mobile world is made up of iOS and Android and that’s it.

Lastly, I also know that Microsoft is working on an update to Windows mobile and views it as vital.

The issue right now is Windows Mobile is a non-factor in mobile beyond a handful of enterprises, phone enthusiasts, and fans. Microsoft should be clearer and provide a real roadmap for where its mobile entry is going.

And honestly that is it; that is all.

Before reading the article posted today on Windows Central I have to admit I was nonplused by what was coming down the pike for Windows. The fact is Windows as an OS needs a make over but can’t get one because legacy keeps it afloat while drowning it.

And I know a lot of people need and require software built on top of x86 but it does prevent things moving forward.

Then Neon happened and my inner UI nerd fainted.

 

neon

image: New Creation

 

Metro 2.0

According to Zac Bowden at Windows Central and Cassim Kefti at Numerama Neon is the codename for the next interface update to Windows 10. Kefti says internally Neon is being described as “Metro 2.0” in reference to the UI introduced with Windows Phone. Windows Central describes it as a streamlining of various efforts to bring level of coherency throughout the system. Neon also looks to add new animations and transitions to Windows 10. Neon also appears to be an effort to integrate new UI elements for augmented and virtual reality headsets. The timeline for the changes according to both articles seems to be Redstone 3, the update planned for 2017.

Neon

So what do I think? Honestly I am hyped by the news nd the possibilities. The news follows reporting from ZDNet about x86 emulation running on ARM for Windows Mobile. The emulation news was preceded by new mobile features coming with Windows’ next update. All this adds up to interesting times ahead for Windows mobile users and enthusiasts.

Now that was the hope. Here is the wants and needs.

First, there needs to be a visual update to both the Start Screen of Windows mobile and the start menu/tablet mode on Windows 10. I include them together because those are the public facing parts of the OS and the ones users use when mobile or without a keyboard. Windows 10 is fine for tablets but can always use improvements.

Second more features for Live Tiles and the lock screen. Neon is the perfect opportunity for features like Interactive Tiles or anything that moves the Tile metaphor forward. Also the Lock screen has been there sitting waiting to be unleashed; maybe the work of Microsoft’s Arrow Launcher could help.

Last, seamless integration of mixed reality into the platform. Windows has merged touch with the mouse and keyboard and no it was not easy. Hopefully they learned from those growing pains.

Honestly it’s early days and I will be revisiting this topic in future.

I haven’t done a post about Windows Phone now Windows 10 Mobile. I mean I started on one but then everyone said it was dead; then Mary Jo Foley got a Nexus and the sky fell.

So let’s recap:

  • Windows Phone as it was first conceived and marketed was not successful.
  • Many of Microsoft’s partners when it was still Windows Phone 7 Series abandoned it.
  • Redmond had to buy the only real Windows Phone handset maker left but ending up firing a lot of the workers and reducing the amount of handsets they make. (When really the only value were the Camera team and HERE mapping)
  • Microsoft has refocused its mobile strategies on pushing apps and services for the big two (Android/iOS); and on refocusing Windows  10 Mobile’s target audiences.

For the last year Microsoft under Nadella has been, in my opinion, trying to make Windows Mobile work. And by work I mean start making profits and being credible competition.

Now let me say upfront, Windows Phone failed. I hate writing that because like its spiritual ancestor the Zune, it was ahead of its time. It faced a number of hurdles that it could not overcome (no matter how hard they tried). So now we on.

I’ve been playing with Windows 10 Mobile since its Insider Preview started. There are a lot things about it I think need serious work. For me most of it is surface stuff. I like the personalization options, but I wish I could group apps to break up the Start Screen. I think the basic layout for UI needs refining and more needs to be done to make apps really pop.

But I also find myself intrigued by what the new Win Mobile is.

I complain about Action Center, but I also really like it. Controls are better. I like the fact this interacts better with the PC. And I like the fact I want to see it on larger screens.

So I think Windows  Mobile has legs, but how does Microsoft make it compelling?

Windows Mobile’s biggest issue out of the gate will be the legacy of Windows Phone: no one uses it and there are no apps. So first question will be, “Why Windows Mobile?”

In some ways Microsoft has already telegraphed that going forward Windows Mobile will be first and foremost about the Enterprise. While Microsoft has also talked about creating experiences for fans of the platform it is clear the focus will be on where they saw growth. Fans are just a bonus.

Beyond the business focus, Windows Mobile will need a consumer story. And I think this where the Surface team comes in.

Despite the appearance of Acer and HP with high end devices, Microsoft is going to have to raise the flag for Windows 10 Mobile. The rumored Surface phone is going to be the point device for Windows Mobile. It will need to be more than just a pretty phone; it’ll need to be a new experience.

This experience goes beyond just having hardware.

Recent reporting around Windows Mobile is indicating that it will be the focus of the next major update to Windows 10. If this is the case, then I think Microsoft should focus on refining the interface and building robust features into the platform.

In my opinion the biggest assets Windows Mobile has is it’s NT kernel underpinnings and Continuum. The NT kernel means this is real Windows. With Continuum Windows Mobile becomes less of an also ran to be a versatile platform. In order for Windows Mobile to get over the “no apps” rep, it will need to push versatility and Continuum hard. To me that means when dock, the phone just becomes a PC (including multitasking).

(Continuum allows a Windows phone to function like a PC with a desktop; apps built to make use of the feature fit the screen. It’s a lot like Windows on ARM or Windows RT)

In some ways what I am suggesting is Microsoft should run with the idea that Windows Mobile as the new Pocket PC. Keep it nerdy. Make it business friendly. Make it versatile and flexible in ways Android and iOS can’t.  Revisit the ideas from the old Win Mobile but reimagined for current mobile audiences.

hp-ipaq-hx-2490c-pocket-pc.jpg

 

(Honestly, I got more but I hit over 700 words and I’ll live it here)

 

The ability to download and run Android apps on Windows Phone will not save the platform.

Will they hurt it? Not really

Will it piss off developers and reduce Universal app development? Maybe

All I know is it won’t save the platform.

Now Paul Thurrott wrote about why Android apps were necessary for Windows Phone. He cited the simple fact that many of the applications people use to go about their day are simply missing on Windows. And we aren’t talking about apps like Snapchat or Tinder, but apps for your local TV station or Public Transit. Those apps are available on Android though and he argues that Microsoft needs to be honest and just go get them. The argument behind all this is Microsoft already ceded the mobile market by one 1) going cross platform and 2) cutting back massively on its own first party Lumia hardware.

Read the post it makes for compelling reading. It jus has one problem or maybe two.

I do agree with Mr. Thurrott that the reality of Windows Phone makes it almost a necessity to push the idea of loading Android apps on the platform. I think that is part of the reason Microsoft is working a version of this for the Windows platform that is codenamed Astoria. I also think this is why Microsoft is also allowing iOS developers to bring their apps over with Project Islandwood. Both projects are about closing the application gap that is the biggest bone of contention for Windows mobile users.

The only problem I have with the piece is Thurrott leaves out a lot of the hurdles that this dream faces. For one what does it mean for developers already on the platform. Now to me these bridges to iOS and Android developers doesn’t impact people already working on the platform. However I know a few will be pissed that they put in all this work only for Microsoft to go off and court others. The second thing is how is Microsoft supposedly going to get these Android devs to suddenly add Windows Phone onto their plates when they haven’t in the past five years. How is letting Android apps run on the Lumia 950 or 950 Xl suddenly make all these developers turn their eyes toward Redmond? I mean wouldn’t it be better to seduce the iOS devs? And what about all the companies that commission apps, do they suddenly hit a button and BOOM we got bank apps? I mean a few will bite but even then will they fully commit to adding Windows Phone to their offerings? Or will they like many others toss an app out that will go unattended in a year.

Then there is Google itself.

Recently Google and Microsoft ended their longtime patent Cold War and agreed to undisclosed terms and vague statements on future collaboration. Does this mean official Google apps or access to Google Play? Or does it mean an update to their useless Windows/Windows Phone apps. Having Google fully support the mobile Windows platform would be a nice psychological victory, but not a big one.

And that is the problem facing Windows. It has the hardware and the software. It has a following and a UI that stands out. But it doesn’t have a developer base that is committed. Of course there are developers who make quality apps, but they are few. On the Windows side you have a developer culture that sees value only in .exe and the desktop. Windows has very few creatives on its platform backing up the developers. iOS and Android devs maybe the answer to the platform but to them Windows is enemy territory or irrelevant.

So no Android apps won’t hurt Windows Phone, but they also aren’t its salvation.